Common Dog Behaviors and the Meaning Behind Them

Common Dog Behaviors and the Meaning Behind Them

You've probably seen your dog dragging her behind on the floor before. Sure, it looks cute, but have you ever wondered why she is doing that or why she keeps hiding or leaning on you? 

Understanding a dog's body language can do wonders for your relationship with your canine best friend. Like humans, dogs communicate with each other—and us— through a complex system of subtle body language. Most dog behaviours are apparent, but there can be some confusion about what specific behaviours mean when communicating with your dog. 

Like the good fur parent you are, you'd want to know its meaning if it's a cause for concern or if your fur baby is goofier than most dogs. To help cut through the confusion, here's a small list of common dog behaviours and what they could mean.


Let's start with a few facts about growling. The first is that dogs growl for several reasons, ranging from playfulness to aggression. When your dog is trying to tell you something through his body language, it's essential to pay attention and try not to jump to conclusions. 

For example, if you're playing with your dog in the park and he starts chasing you around like he usually does when he gets excited—and then suddenly stops dead in his tracks before running away from you—it could mean one of two things: either he has realized that chasing people isn't fun anymore (a sign of maturity) or he's about to bite (a sign of aggression).

Leaning or Standing Against You

It's normal for your pup to lean against you, especially if he's tired or feeling a little low. It could also be his way of saying, "I'm here for you," and could signal insecurity or neediness. A dog that stands up with his paws on your shoulders is trying to assert dominance and territoriality in the relationship—but it could also just be an affectionate gesture!

Staring Down Another Dog

When a dog stares at another dog, it is an attempt to establish dominance. Staring can be perceived as threatening by other dogs and may lead to a fight if they feel threatened by it.

The following are examples of when dogs will stare down other dogs:

  • To assert dominance over another dog/animal in general

  • To show aggression towards another animal (will also bark during this time).

  • To submit to another dog's authority or give up during playtime with the intent of avoiding conflict

Licking You

Licking is a sign of affection. Dogs use licking as an expression of love and affection, so if your dog is licking you, he's most likely trying to show his appreciation and devotion.

It is commonly known as a sign of submission as well. When dogs are submissive or stressed out, they may lick their lips or the area around their mouth (similar to humans when they feel nervous). This is usually paired with other body language cues like lowered ears and tail position.

Licking as a sign of anxiety. Suppose your dog starts licking excessively when there isn't any food around. It could be because he's finding something stressful in his environment or just feeling anxious in general—perhaps due to separation anxiety or another environmental cue that makes him uncomfortable (such as loud noises). 


If your dog suddenly starts to hide in the corner, it can indicate his vulnerability. If he's ordinarily outgoing and friendly, this behaviour could indicate that he's feeling insecure and needs some reassurance. It can also mean that your pup is afraid of something specific—for example if you've recently taken your dog to the vet for a checkup and his health has improved since then, but he's still hiding out under the bed every time you walk by him with a leash in hand.

A hiding dog may convey that he has some illness or injury. A sudden shift from being active to resting could be due to an infection such as kennel cough affecting his throat muscles; if he seems lethargic after eating or drinking water but doesn't appear nauseous at all times around mealtime, then it may be worth calling into question whether there might be something else going on here beyond simple fatigue-related reasons.

Dog Eating Poop (Coprophagia)

To many, coprophagia is the grossest of dog behaviors. Dogs that pick up and eat poop are typically doing so to gain nutrients they don't get from their food, but that's not always the case. The behaviour can be a sign of an underlying health problem or nutritional imbalance—and it can also be dangerous for your pup!

If you notice your dog eating his own or other pets' feces, speak with your vet immediately. This is a sign that something may be wrong with him internally—even if he seems healthy on the outside (and even if he doesn't have any symptoms).

In most cases, changing his diet will solve this problem. But if that doesn't work and/or if he continues to eat feces despite being fed a high-quality diet, talk to your vet about medications or supplements that can help control this behaviour.

Scooting or Dragging Their Butt Along the Floor

This behaviour is usually a sign that something is wrong with your pup's back end. The most common cause of this problem is anal sac impaction, which occurs when a dog has an infection or blockage in its anal glands. If left untreated, this condition can worsen and cause more severe problems for your pet—so it's essential to see a vet ASAP if you notice any scooting or dragging from Fido!

Tail Wagging

Wagging your tail is a dog's way of saying, "I'm happy to see you!" or "It's time for playtime!" But if your dog only wags his tail when he is frightened or threatened by something (like another dog), this can mean that he feels threatened by something.

Wagging low means the dog isn't feeling very happy about something and may make some growling noises. A wagging tail with the body low means that the dog is angry or upset about something and may even attack!

Sneezing or Shaking His Head Frequently

Sneezing and shaking his head frequently are common reactions to dust, pollen, and other irritants. If your dog is doing this, he's likely trying to remove the irritant from his nose.

If you notice him sneezing or shaking his head, it could indicate that there is water in his nose. This can happen when he drinks too much water too quickly and has more than he can handle.

The signs of sneezing or shaking may also indicate an infection or foreign object in the nostrils.


If your dog is biting, it's important to understand that it could be a sign of aggression or fear. Biting is also expected behaviour for dogs—but if he bites you too often or hard enough to hurt you, then it's time to seek help from your vet or a trainer.

One of the most common reasons dogs bite people stems from teething pain. As puppies grow into adult dogs, they begin to grow their permanent teeth, which can be painful for them. It's not uncommon for puppies who are teething to chew on just about anything within reach—including your hands! If this happens, keep an eye out for any abnormal swelling or redness around the area where he has bitten before seeking medical attention (especially if there was blood).


Circling is just one of the many behaviours that your dog could exhibit. It's important to know what your dog's behaviour means before you can understand why he does it and how you can help him feel better.

As a general rule, circling is not harmful or dangerous to your dog or other people in the house. However, it's still important to pay attention when he circles because he may be trying to tell you something is wrong with him or his environment—or both!

Dog Head Pressing

Head pressing is when your dog pushes his head against walls and other objects. It can also indicate other problems, such as neurological issues or brain tumors. If your dog has a brain tumor, this behaviour could be caused by compression of the brain, which occurs after a tumor grows out of proportion with the rest of the skull.

In some cases, however, head pressing might mean nothing at all—it may just be that your pup likes to rub up against something! If there's any doubt about what's causing this behaviour in your pet, get him checked out by a vet.

Dog urinating

There are several reasons why your dog may be urinating.

  • Excitement: Your dog could be excited to see you, and it's just a coincidence that he's also peeing. This is especially common when you come home from work or an extended period away from home.

  • Submissiveness: If your dog urinates when visitors arrive, this can indicate submission. It's his way of saying, "I'm not a threat."


Understanding your dog's behaviours can help you decipher what he needs when he acts in specific ways. Look at the body language of your dog. Dogs have a wide range of facial expressions, from simple ear positions to more complex lip pulls and tail wags. 

These are all signals they're sending out and communicating to you through their body language. If he has his ears pinned back against his head and is showing his teeth, then it means that he's feeling threatened by something or someone nearby. This could be another dog or person—or perhaps there's an object near him that has triggered this response (for example, an unfamiliar piece of furniture).

In conclusion, dog behaviour is not always black and white. Several variables are at play, which is precisely what makes it so interesting to study. If you want to build a great relationship with your dog, the key is to look into her eyes and identify what she's feeling. This ability can take time and experience to acquire, but once you do have it, the potential for a deeper connection with your dog becomes very real.

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